I have a four year old son, who is just starting out on his journey of birthday parties, and so me with him! I have so far managed to avoid with big treats and family tea parties sufficing, but already with the fifth birthday looming, I know I won’t be able avoid it any longer.
I am one of the new army of older mums, being over forty with a young child no longer feels awkward, and I would say in the small fairly affluent village where we live (others are affluent, I am generally church mouse poor!) we outnumber those in their twenties! But being that old, my memories of parties are strictly limited to an afternoon in the lounge with the three-piece pushed to the sides, making room for pass the parcel, musical chairs and statues; followed by a party tea which consisted of egg and ham sarnies, crisps, cheese and pineapple on sticks, and enough sugar filled confectionary to single handidly ensure Silver Spoon stayed in business for the next month! Followed of course by jelly and ice-cream and homemade birthday cake! Guests were sent off with a piece of cake and some sweets, most of whom were by then suffering the sugar come down and so plenty of sobbing ensued!
So today’s kids parties with their village halls and lavish entertainment are a world away from my warm and fuzzy memories of 1970s kids fun, and that is fine the world has changed, I get that and make no mistake I will be joining in with the “hiring someone so it’s not too stressful” trend, and why not. I can still remember the one and only party I went to as a child where there was actually a magician, I desperately needed a poo and couldn’t move for the majority of the performance so he thought I was the one and only avid member of his audience! The fact I got home with clean underwear is testament to my impressive sphincter muscles coupled with the fact the shame of pooping myself during a magic show was greater than my need.
I have accepted that we don’t get to leave kids at parties anymore, that for some there is an element of competition, that they cost a small fortune, and that each child MUST leave having consumed at least one of their five a day, along with an appropriate and pricey party bag. I understand that the mummy’s need tea, coffee and cake and that it’s ok to frown at the lone dad who runs in and drops their kids off and runs out again – its just envy that we are not all so brave!
What I cannot accept is the helicoptering, the inability to let the children do anything without a parent less than 2 feet away from them. I genuinely fear for our kids, if they are allowed no independence whatsoever! Party entertainers/planners are there to do that job, so let them! A four year old does not need his mum to stomp around like an elephant or to put on his cowboy hat to sign a song.
At one end of the hall there are always seats and available beverages and cake but rarely many more than me and a few other die hard non-copters. Our children have to be allowed to enjoy or endure, join in or decide to sit it out! Three and four year olds (and five and six year olds) are exploring who they are and making friends and working out social rules. A party organiser worth their salt can control a pack of pre-schoolers/early year’ers easily but the moment a child steps a centimetre out of line the mummy is there, berating or cajoling, apologising and pulling their bairn away. Leave em be, we all know kids respond to a hitherto unknown authority figure far more than their own parent. Let the child learn the rules of society that being at a party and behaving a certain way ensures everyone enjoys themselves. (Of course some children struggle, and others with specific difficulties find parties and social gatherings particularly testing, I take my hat off to the parents who ensure their kids enjoy themselves, when staying at home would have been easier!)
We have to be able to plant our bums down and let them be, I can’t believe it is healthy or positive to not give your child the simple freedom of being allowed to enjoy a birthday party with his/her peers without his mum being the jingly jangly scarecrow as well. Even letting them be, we are always nearby. Surely the shy clingy child will never be brave enough to embrace the fear and step up if Mummy is less than a foot away.
My sprog regularly checks I am there, but is then content to enjoy himself. If he gets up and tries to go behind the magic chest to find out what is coming next, I don’t run down the hall like a petrified flamingo, I let the party entertainer do his job and tell him to sit down, and he does sit down and he doesn’t do it again!
Then of course comes the party tea, rows of children sat down with a mummy anxiously stood behind to ensure their child eats properly, helping out at every possible opportunity (my son can open a packet of crisps surely he is not alone in that). It’s actually embarrassingly comical! I probably start to get a bit jumpy after my his tenth Jammie Dodger, but I try and let him make choices and decisions it’s a party tea, it’s supposed to be fun it’s not a nutritionally balanced meal! A chance for our kids to learn some lessons about sharing and munching together. Not a chance for mummies to say in loud voices “oh but darling you never have chocolate biscuits at home, let’s have some carrot sticks instead”!
It’s hard not helicoptering and there are times when standing back whilst still keeping your child safe are hard, playgrounds etc, but I try very hard. I know how much we love our kids and of course it seems that when you are with them singing along and playing they are having fun, but I truly think we are doing them a disservice, not encouraging independence and self-discovery, but smothering and stifling them with the very best of intentions.
Time to land the helicopter, grab a cuppa, sit down, and enjoy watching your child having a great time!